THE celebrations went long into the night as fans toasted golden boy Rory McIlroy after he won the Open golf championship in a thrilling final roun
Now his home town of Holywood in Co Down is preparing to welcome home the 25-year-old after he clinched his third major title of his career.
Rory could be back in the garrison town within 24 hours to show off the Claret Jug to his legion of fans who packed Holywood Golf Club on Sunday where he first honed his skills a primary school boy.
McIlroy admitted it was an “emotional” occasion as it was the first time his mum was present greenside to watch him lift a major title.
“Yes it was emotional. It was the first time my mum has been at a golf course to see me lift a major title,” he said afterwards.
“I was a bit emotional too. I had to hold back the tears. It has been a tough 18 months or so.”
It has tough on and off the golf course to McIlroy as he struggled to find a rich vein of form.
Off the course, he split from his Danish fiancee Caroline Wozniacki just days after they sent out their wedding day invites to family and friends.
He started the day with a six-shot lead and that had been whittled down to just two over Sergio Garcia with three holes to play.
But to his credit McIlroy held his nerve admirably, making a two-putt birdie on 16 to stretch his lead to three.
He followed that by getting up and down from 40 yards at 17 for a par, then made par five at 18 for a one-under 71.
McIlroy finished two shots clear of Garcia – who endured yet another near-miss at a major championship despite a closing 66 – and American Ricky Fowler.
Fowler birdied three of the last four holes to card a 67 and has now finished fifth, second and second in the year’s majors.
It is the 10th time that Garcia has finished in the top five at a major and he is still to break his duck.
In stark contrast, his third major title means McIlroy will head to Augusta next year bidding to complete a career grand slam at the age of 25.
McIlroy is already the first European player to win three different majors since the Masters was founded in 1934. Even greats such as Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros won just two of the four.
The Northern Irishman becomes just the third man in the modern era after Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus to win three majors by the age of 25.
He picked up Claret Jug and a first prize of £975,000.
However, it was not the only windfall for the McIlroy family – his father Gerry and three friends each won £50,000 after putting £100 on the 15-year-old at 500-1 a decade ago to lift the Open title before his 26th birthday.
Back up to second in the world rankings, McIlroy needs to win the Masters to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only men to have won all four majors.
He led by four shots going into the final round at Augusta in 2011 only to collapse to a closing 80.
McIlroy is the second wire-to-wire winner of a major in succession after Martin Kaymer won the US Open at Pinehurst last month by eight shots, the same margin by which McIlroy won the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA Championship.
A similar procession was expected in some quarters on Sunday, not least when McIlroy got off to a flying start by smashing a drive down the middle of the first fairway and holing from 20 feet for birdie to extend his lead to seven shots.
However, the benign conditions were allowing the chasing pack to make a charge and it was Garcia who took most advantage, birdies on the first, third and fifth taking him to the turn in 32.
McIlroy had carded consecutive bogeys for the first time all week on the fifth and sixth and had to save par from a greenside bunker on the seventh, but also birdied the ninth to restore a four-shot cushion.
That lasted a matter of minutes though, Garcia holing from 12 feet for an eagle on the 10th to reduce the gap to just two shots, only for McIlroy to respond with a two-putt birdie on the same hole 10 minutes later.
It was Garcia’s turn to feel the pressure as he carved his approach to the 12th into the grandstand, but he was smiling seconds later as the ball rebounded out and on to the edge of the green.
From there he saved par, kissed the ball and deposited it straight back into the same grandstand – albeit at a considerablyslower speed than the first time.
McIlroy agonisingly left a birdie putt inches short on the same hole before hitting a dreadful tee shot on the 13th which came up well short of the green, the resulting bogey cutting his lead to two shots again.
Then came the defining moment. With McIlroy watching back on the tee, Garcia failed to get out of a greenside bunker on the 15th at the first attempt and although he birdied the 16th, so did McIlroy and when Garcia left a birdie attempt on the 17th tamely short, it was effectively all over.